Sometime last year, I think, I rejoined a cult that I was a member of as a child–the Cult of the Public Library.
You should look into it, by the way. My chosen branch is the Arapahoe Library District. I’ll not mention the particular branch–where I choose to attend services–because it’s fairly near my house [though, weirdly enough, not near enough for me to be included in their district, so I’m just outside their service area, which limits some of my borrowing abilities].
My most recent…I’m running out of ways to make this sound churchian. Fuck. My most recent attendance was actually from home. From bed, even. The library has truly become a magical place. The benediction was a simple submission of my library card number, and a few words typed into a search form. So many books…and I could borrow twelve at once.
Twelve. In the old days, that could hold me for…a day or two, maybe a week if the books were long.
So, I wasted seven on the shittiest ‘nonfiction’ ghost books I could find. Well, five. The other two were Joe Hill books.
I won’t be talking about Joe Hill’s stuff, because one of them was just one story from a collection, and it did not suck.
I don’t like talking about things that don’t suck, because I can’t find words.
I want to talk about one of the ones that sucked. Ghost Hunt 2: MORE Chilling Tales of the Unknown.
Yes, it’s a sequel. And no, the first one wasn’t any better.
It’s a collection of ‘fictionalized’ stories about ‘real cases’ that the Ghost Hunters team [I think that’s the shitty ghosts-are-totes-realz-you-guise show on SyFy] really investigated. And you can tell they’ve been spiced up because you get the inner thoughts of people who aren’t the authors.
Also, I’m pretty sure it was written for the tween set.
At the end of this short–but not short enough–book, there’s a segment called “The GHOST HUNT Expert Guide,” by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. Because, authors, you really need to give yourself credit for something inside the book that also bears both your names. If you don’t re-credit yourselves, the world might think someone else wrote it.
I, the unfortunate reader, am given a TEST CASE [after an awkwardly placed–at least, on the Kindle–image of a pencil] to see what kind of ghost hunter I am. But I shouldn’t worry if I get a lot of wrong answers, because this test is just for fun, and the test that counts is at the end of this guide.
Spoiler alert: the test that counts doesn’t involve releasing a real ghost from my Kindle, forcing me to hunt it down with my newly acquired paranormal investigation skills.
The scenario: I’m at camp. For some reason. With bunk mates. And a duffel bag. And a flashlight. And I’m doing bullshit camp things–sitting around a fire with other campers, making s’mores and listening to bullshit ghost stories.
The bullshit ghost story is about how some Civil War soldier is still roaming the area, and people see him with his lantern [way to be stealthy, soldier-dude–no wonder you died].
The first question isn’t even a question. It’s an assumption.
1. You decide the story could be true because it fits the description of a…
a) Demonic haunting
b) Intelligent haunting
c) Residual haunting
–Ghost Hunt 2, Page 303, Kindle Edition
Hold up. Just a minute. I decide it must be true? Based on what? No, what I decide is that this is a story that was either made up by the camp to scare the stupid noobs, or a story that grew out of a bunch of stupid city kids hearing shit in the woods.
But I suspect the answer you want is ‘Residual Haunting’. Let’s move on.
Oh dear! An orange light that appears and disappears. A whiff of kerosene. A faint voice.
The next question asks what I think is going on out there.
a)Nothing paranormal; it’s probably just another group camping out.
b) Swamp gas
c) A ghost with a lantern
d) A lost hiker with a flashlight
–Ghost Hunt 2, Page 305, Kindle Edition
Swamp gas? Seriously? Is this a story about the ghost of a UFO? Or are you just trying to ‘mock the unbeliever’?
I don’t know what answer they want. Possibly a, although I wouldn’t even get that specific. If I was going to get specific, I’d probably go with e) Nothing paranormal. It’s probably just a couple of those teen camp supervisory people fucking with the first timers.
Also, why is there a picture of some paperclips on this page? That’s a little too random for my tastes.
Storytime’s over. Fire’s out, because we wouldn’t want that fucking bear to come in and maul us for not preventing forest fires. There’s a lie about getting comfortable in a sleeping bag, when…oh no, I see something. Something moving toward the campsite!
It’s heading right for us! What do I do?
a) Shine your flashlight back at the light, hoping to scare away whatever spirit is there
b) Look outside the tent and see what’s there
c) Roll over and go to sleep
d) Do research the next day in the camp library about the soldier in your counselor’s story
–Ghost Hunt 2, Page 306, Kindle Edition
So it gives me these choices, as if it’s a CYOA, but there’s really no choice at all. And it’s not much of a test, either, because the answer’s in the next paragraph. Where I would roll over and go the fuck to sleep, I see that they want me to look outside and see what’s there. Then go to sleep. Then ask someone about it.
Then drop it for several days, because it just doesn’t matter. Until we hit the most illogical question of them all.
4. You have enough room in your backpack to bring only four pieces of ghost hunting equipment, so you decide to take all the following pieces:
a) Thermometer, compass, camera, set of extra batteries
b) Compass, camera, flashlight, set of extra batteries
c) Camera, flashlight, walkie-talkies, set of extra batteries
d) Flashlight, thermometer, compass, set of extra batteries
–Ghost Hunt 2, Page 307, Kindle Edition
What the fuck.
What the fucking fuck.
As far as I can tell, this book was released in 2011, or possibly reprinted in 2012. Those are the two dates that I’ve managed to find online. You might notice something about those two years–they weren’t that long ago. The iPhone was out, three or four versions of it. The Samsung Galaxy was at least two versions into the series. There was the HTC EVO, and there might’ve even been a Windows phone.
I don’t really know about that last one. What I do know is that my Droid 3 had a camera, a flashlight and a compass. I doubt a thermometer would do any good at all. And I could change the battery in it.
I also know that, were I going camping, I would not be taking my smallest possible bag with me. What the fuck. Even if I were carrying one of those gigantic flashlights that somehow took four of those six volt lantern batteries, I’d still have room for a fucking thermometer. Thermometers are not large. And the twit of a character I’m obviously playing here would probably use a rectal thermometer. A mercury-filled one. To chew on. Vigorously.
And then I’d go find some lead paint to lick, because I am obviously a moron who goes camping with only the trendiest of clutches…and god forbid it should go out of fashion before the trip was over, because I obviously left my internet-connected phone at home so I can’t buy the latest fashions.
And don’t tell me that kids don’t smuggle their phones into camp. Because they totally do.
Anyway, I’m apparently investigating alone. Possibly with walkie talkies. And possibly with a purse dog, because why else would my bag be so full?
What do I do, they ask.
a) Call out to the spirit
b) Look for markers of a burial ground
c) Sit down where your tent was and wait for the spirit to show itself
d) Take a few pictures of the area
–Fuck this. Ibid. or something.
Well, while I’m here, I might as well take some pictures. Even though it’s dark and they’ll be shit.
Or I’ll just leave the flash on and alert the entire camp. Or not. There’s obviously not much supervision in this hellhole.
What do I do now?
Obviously I fuck around with my compass, which is behaving erratically. Ooh. A clue!
I’m given four more options. Do I see if I’m wearing something watch or belt-like that would fuck with the compass [not if it’s in my phone, bitches], stay out all night like the camp rebel that I am, take a bunch of pictures, or give up.
No clue is given for what the answer should be. I’m guessing I should check to make sure I’m not a metal-wearing retard, then take more pictures.
Then, apparently, I call out to the spirit and walk around a bit. Which magically makes the compass behave differently.
Is that a sign?
a)Yes, the spirit responded to your asking for a sign by stopping the compass needle
b) No, the compass should spin faster if a spirit is present
c) Maybe, it’s not 100 percent proof one way or the other
d) No, if it was the spirit, the orange light would be back
Yes, No, Maybe!
How about ‘there’s probably a rational explanation that doesn’t involve ghosts being magnetic’?
More pictures, and then the truly unbelievable part–apparently I’ve made friends at this camp. I don’t know how that happened, because I’m obviously a weirdo who brings tiny bags and giant flashlights.
I apparently brought a digital camera, though, because I get to see the pictures right away. And one of them has a dude with a musket! Oh boy. But should I check it against other pictures? Or somehow look at this one flat image from different angles to make sure I’m not ‘matrixing’?
I suppose that’s just some way of expressing ‘falling victim to the brain’s natural tendency to turn noise into not-noise’…which is pretty much the entire business of ghost hunting.
Oh, or I’m supposed to look for other paranormal things in the image. Or all of the above.
Haven’t had an all of the above, so that’s probably the right answer.
Somehow, I decide that it’s totally a real ghost picture. And I have more choices.
a)Tell your counselor not to camp out at that spot anymore because it’s dangerous
b)See if anyone else in your cabin is interested in ghost hunting and set up a ghost hunting team
c) Go back to the spot alone for more investigation
d) Write home to your parents, and tell them to send you a better camera
…and we have a random picture of crumpled up paper.
Since the next paragraph is about going back out there with my friends, I guess I invited some friends out to ghost hunt with me. And they, being kids, did the kid-like thing and did not immediately boot me to the lowest rung of the social ladder.
This is where we discover that the picture was just a funny tree, and that the compass was being fucked with by a power line. And I apparently start to hear voices.
And I discover that I was right in the first place. It’s a camp tradition to scare the noobs.
But the voice? That wasn’t part of it. Spooky. Ooh.
Then we break for a review, in which they discuss how they once debunked a ‘demonic haunting’ by pointing out that it was a dog farting.
Then we’re on to the EXPERT TEST CASE.
Suddenly, shit gets real, because I’m the newest member of their team. They’re not gonna like me.
We’re investigating an old boarding school. There’s a groundskeeper. And he’s experienced some shit.
1. You want to show the team what you’ve learned, but you don’t want to be too eager just in case this isn’t something they would investigate. After thinking it over, you say…
a) “Definitely. This place must be haunted because of the death of the student.”
b) “Yeah, it might be worth it. I’m going to do some investigating first to find out more about the student who died. Then we’ll decide whether to go.”
c) “It sounds like something paranormal might be going on. If you think the groundskeeper is telling the truth about what he heard and saw, we should check it out.”
d) “I don’t think it would be worth it. Something doesn’t add up to me. Wouldn’t the ghost of a student just be near the stairs?”
E. “Who wears the dog costume this time? Is it my job, as the rookie? Can I be the one to pull of the mask when it’s time for us all to gasp in surprise and reveal that it’s the groundskeeper?”
But of course, we investigate. The answer is probably c. And there’s no real consequences to the answer. No ‘go to page x’.
There’s some squeaking. And I have to decide which team member to listen to. Do I check the hinges, find the exact spot where the kid died, run, or try to communicate with the spirit.
For once, I can agree with the story. I look for the source of the squeaking. Apparently, I find nothing, even though I’m sure this is an old building. There’s bound to be something squeaking.
Now they want to know what equipment I will use to see if there are spirits walking where the groundskeeper heard footsteps: EMF detector, IR camera, Ion generator, or geophone.
Fucking ION GENERATOR? What the FUCK?
Apparently, I’m supposed to use a geophone. And, since none of us are geologists, none of us know how to use this fucking thing, and probably don’t understand that the readings we get from what’s probably a ridiculously sensitive device–that’s most likely not even properly calibrated–could be from anything and everything transmitting vibrations through the building.
Then comes the EMF detector. Yet another poorly-calibrated, misused device. And a door slams, which instantly means GHOST. WE MUST TALK TO IT. THROUGH THE EMF DETECTOR.
4. You hold the K-II meter out in front of you, and you say…
a) “Robert, is that you?”
b) “If there is a spirit present, please come closer and make the lights on the meter blink.”
c) “Spirit, what is your name?”
d) “Spirit, how did you die?”
“Hey, long-dead person. Yeah, you. I promise this magical blinking box isn’t a demon. C’mere.”
The meter blinks. Oh dear. Now we chat, apparently. And then I’m supposed to decide what I do next: turn on the audio recorder, ask another question, assure the spirit that you mean no harm, or all of the above.
All of the above again. Because why would they give it if it wasn’t the right choice. These guys suck at tests almost as much as they suck at CYOA.
Then…a shadow! A moving shadow. Oooh. But another teammate comes over and does something. And the next question has the option of ‘Trying to catch the groundskeeper, who has been trying to play a trick on TAPS.’
But, obviously, they’re trying to debunk the scary, scary shadow-figure.
But we can’t dwell on that, because it’s time to play with the FLIR! And there are warm spots on the bed. Warm spots that look like footprints.
Obviously, a ghost has just been jumping on the bed.
Even though ghosts are typically referred to as cold….
Then it’s time to go back and look over the ‘evidence’. For some reason, I’m apparently sure I’ve got an EVP, but nobody else hears it. So I’m given choices–none of which are ‘you’re finding patterns in noise, you stupid, stupid human’.
The last two questions are probably the worst.
9. After reviewing all the evidence one last time, the team comes to the conclusion that…
a) There’s not enough evidence to back up the claim that Oakwood Academy is haunted
b) The groundskeeper was probably making the whole thing up
c) Because of all the personal experiences, Oakwood Academy is probably haunted
d) Robert Miller’s spirit was trying to communicate
10. “Well, there are some things we can do,” you say. You suggest…
a) Doing research on Oakwood Academy’s history
b) Contacting the groundskeeper to visit Oakwood Academy again, now that you know where the hot spots are
c) Using audio filtering equipment to try to clean up the EVP you think you caught
d) All of the above.
The answers given in the book? 9. C.
Because, obviously. Personal experiences and feelings trump actual evidence every time, when you’re a ghost hunter.
And 10? D.
Because you’ll want to arm yourself with something you can mutilate into support for the shaky evidence that you manipulated into existence.
That was all fucking awful and predictable. And the worst part? The guys who wrote this were both born in the 70s. They probably grew up with Choose Your Own Adventure books, and they weren’t smart enough to actually make these things into proper ‘Choose Your Own Adventures’.
That’s probably what they had in mind when they were writing the ‘tests’. Except, instead of a fun little multi-threaded story, I had to suffer though the shitty, special-needs child of a word problem and a Cosmo quiz.
You should be annoyed, too. Because it grew up fast, and gave birth to this post.
I’m going to go return this book now and open up another slot. Then, I think I might read something else by Joe Hill.
Because, unlike Hawes and Wilson, he seems to be able to write.
Hell, the computer named R.L. Stine can write better than these guys, and it shouldn’t have even existed back when Goosebumps were the big really-young-adult-fiction thing.